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CHI: Good Italian and other suggestions?


cpl55
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Hello! This is my first eG post, but I have been enjoying all of the information and insights as I plan summer travels!

My husband and I will be going with my parents to Chicago at the beginning of August to celebrate their 40th anniversary. The focus of our trips is usually food, and I have booked Alinea for Saturday night (can't WAIT for that!), but we have two other nights available.

My dad adores Italian food. Are there any great new "finds" for Italian? I have looked at Spiaggio, but I couldn't help but wonder if there is somewhere perhaps slightly less formal/more fun that had really great food. Cost is not a big factor as this is a special occasion weekend, but we are doing the blowout at Alinea on our last night, so big "production" restaurants are not a requirement for the first two nights, though if they DO happen to be the places you think are best, I'm open to that. Plus, we're from California and used to casual attire even at our top restaurants - we don't mind "jacket required", but would kind of prefer "elegant but relatively casual". (I know, savages we are... :wink: )

And aside from the Italian recommendations, what other places shouldn't be missed?

Thank you, I really appreciate your thoughts!

Christina

Edited by cpl55 (log)

Christina

www.sleeplessfoodie.com

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I think you've correctly identified the high-end leader (Spiaggia) and I expect you'll have a wonderful meal if that's your choice. For a more casual (and less expensive) experience with outstanding food and a great vibe, take a look at La Scarola (www.lascarola.com) just a few minutes northwest of the river north area, or Francesca's Forno (www.miafrancesca.com/restaurants/forno) a few minutes west of there in Wicker Park. La Scarola feels like an authentic Italian neighborhood restaurant (probably because it is) in the best possible sense of the phrase. Francesca's Forno has a little more trendy vibe reflective of its younger neighborhood. Both are great restaurants serving absolutely wonderful food.

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You could go completely in the opposite direction and have a charming, retro evening at Sabatino's. Strolling musicians, waiters in bow-ties, Old World menu, flaming desserts. It will remind your parents of places they probably went to when they were dating.

"New" + "Italian" in Chicago just now means Neapolitan-style pizzerias. Eh.

Specific "don't miss" recommendations require some idea of where you'll be staying, how far you want to travel, etc., but here are a few things I'd put on any tourist's list.

Not to be missed in Chicago:

- Deep-dish or stuffed pizza (my favorite is Edwardo's).

- Chicago-style hot dog (some are better than others, but anywhere with a Vienna beef sign will probably be all right -- get it with "everything." Non-canonical but fun spots include Hot Doug's and Superdawg; however, you should visit a standard stand for comparison).

- Italian beef (Johnnie's Beef, 7500 W. North Ave, Elmwood Park, is the best, but Al's No. 1, 1079 W. Taylor St., Chicago, is more convenient for tourists -- and you can get Italian lemonade across the street at Mario's).

- Mexican food (not at all what you have in California. Frontera Grill gets all the press at the high end, but there's fabulous Mexican at every level, including stands at Maxwell Street Market).

- Other cuisines in which Chicago excels include Polish, Korean and steak. There are some notable Thai places, Italian of almost every variety and some excellent Chinese and Japanese. You might also want to check out Midwestern-style comfort food at Atwood Cafe or the more upscale North Pond.

- Besides eating, you should definitely see a few plays, take in some improv or sketch comedy, go to the beach (Lake Michigan is a completely different experience from the Pacific), visit some museums and perhaps take an architecture tour.

LAZ

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I agree with LAZ on a few ends (well really - I agree with LAZ on everything stated, but especially on):

Edwardo's stuffed pizza - holy moly good. Put it this way - I was never HUGE on chicago deep dish. Did I like it? Sure, what's not to like. But, I would always chose regular crust, or Cafe Luigi on clark street (they have the BEST new york style pizza you can get in Chicago....individual slices or the whole pie).

However, once I took my first bite of Edwardos, I was hooked. Now, Edwardos (which is deep dish) beats out all condendors. Whether it be pan, thin, new york, whatever. I do not know what mix of cheese they are using but they are doing it right. So healthy (for pizza) too. Not at all greasy and all their ingredients are brought in daily, fresh is the key. They make their crust, their sauce, etc.... All of this makes it a completely delish experience. My fiance and I both agree that Edwardos is king of all pizza's in chicago.

Atwood cafe is also great. Right downtown, great food. I have never been disapointed by the food or service. Nice ambiance too.

Frontera grill - sure notyour "typical" mexican but its really good. Lively, yummy, but super crowded. They do NOT take reservations. Look up the times that they open, and be prepared to be waiting outside about 35 mins before the open time. If not (if you get there even right when they open) be ready for a wait!

As for italian - I am not sure. The fiance and I usually chose non-italian places when dining out. Don't ask me why cause we love italian.

mexican - I never hear this place getting recommendations here on E-Gullet but El Fiesta de Mexicana is great. Not fancy at all. Young crowd, families, they all go to this joint. Ins in Lincoln Park right on Lincoln Ave, I think around 2300 Lincoln, near there at least. I love one of their salsas. You have to ask for it. I do not like spicy (or too spicy at least) so the first time I was there I asked if they could bring a mild. They brought out the best thing ever. It was even served warm. Whenever I ask for mild now they bring it. Not like a typical salsa though. Its tomato saucey....with long thin opinions in it (not the lil chopped up ones you normally find in salsa). Later when we got our meals I realized its their red enchillada suace!!! Sooo good on their chips. I go there sometimes just to get an order of chips with their "mild" salsa to bring home (take out style snack :0) )

Nothing special - but damn good mexican. I think so at least

"One Hundred Years From Now It Will Not Matter What My Bank Account Was, What Kind of House I lived in, or What Kind of Car I Drove, But the World May Be A Better Place Because I Was Important in the Life of A Child."

LIFES PHILOSOPHY: Love, Live, Laugh

hmmm - as it appears if you are eating good food with the ones you love you will be living life to its fullest, surely laughing and smiling throughout!!!

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For a nice, quiet, relatively low key, excellent Italian dinner you can't go wrong with A Tavola on Chicago avenue. It's very small, so make reservations. Due to the size of the kitchen the menu is fairly limited. Still, they continue to offer the lightest gnocchi you will ever find, though you can't go wrong with anything on the menu here.

Pick up your phone

Think of a vegetable

Lonely at home

Call any vegetable

And the chances are good

That a vegetable will respond to you

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An Italian spot that you should consider is Riccardo's Trattoria. Riccardo's is small, authentic and the chef is formerly of Bice. The pastas are very good.

Eliot Wexler aka "Molto E"

MoltoE@restaurantnoca.com

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  • 2 weeks later...

Two more Italian suggestions:

Merlo (which has two locations with the same menus, though the Lincoln Ave location seems to have a more casual feel). Excellent food. Quite traditional style.

Terra Gusto. More like "the best neighborhood joint". It's small. Slightly less traditional, but excellent food.

Poke around here and on LTHForum.com and you'll find many more detailed reviews.

Merlo Ristorante

2638 N. Lincoln Ave.

773-529-0747

Terragusto

1851 W. Addison St.

773-248-2777

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Spiaggia is definitely number one. In fact, I think it's really the only Italian in town on that level of formality, creativity, and ultimate service. If you go down a notch, that opens up a whole bunch of places which still have excellent food. A few have already been mentioned above. Cafe Spiaggia, its more casual sister restaurant, belongs in this group. So do Coco Pazzo and Trattoria 10. My personal favorite in this group is one of those places people don't talk that much about, but I think is really awesome, IMHO as good as anything short of Spiaggia: Vivere, the fine dining restaurant in the Italian Village complex in the Loop. All of these are good, and you can't go wrong with any of them.

As for other "don't miss" places, I agree that Chicago-style pizza is a "don't miss", whether you prefer the stuffed, double-crust pizza of Giordano's, Edwardo's, or Bacino's, or the single-crust pan pizza of Lou Malnati's or Gino's East. Rick Bayless's two Mexican places are worth visiting, too - although I don't know why everyone only mentions Frontera Grill, when you can make advance reservations at Topolobampo without the hassle or worries; at lunch you'll find the prices aren't that different, either.

My personal favorite for "don't miss" would be one sixtyblue, for unbelievably delicious New American cuisine in a hip but casual setting.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Rick Bayless's two Mexican places are worth visiting, too - although I don't know why everyone only mentions Frontera Grill, when you can make advance reservations at Topolobampo without the hassle or worries; at lunch you'll find the prices aren't that different, either.

I might add that you can order from the Topolombapo menu and the Frontera menu if you are seated in Frontera (and if you are seated in the bar). So, in case you can't get a reservation at Topolombapo, or just want to sample a few of the dishes, you aren't out of luck.

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  • 1 month later...

Tufano's in Little Italy was great when I was in college. It is bigger than a mom and pop place, but still has a lot of charm. Most importantly, the food was always fantastic.

Tufano's Review

Tufano's on Vernon Park

1073 W. Vernon Park

Chicago, IL 60607

(312) 733-3393

Map it

"In a perfect world, cooks who abuse fine cutlery would be locked in a pillory and pelted with McNuggets."

- Anthony Bourdain

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